As the popularity of athletics in Botswana continues to soar, the upcoming IAAF World Championships billed for August 4 in London could break the ceiling as Botswana looks set to field a strong team with pedigree. The probability curve shapes well in favour of local athletes come August.
Botswana has not won a medal at the championships since the 2011 edition in Daegu, South Korea. But with the current team, chances are that the barren years may be brought to a screeching halt – with the possibility of winning a medal almost approaching actuality.
The country has relied on the heroics of the experienced Isaac Makwala and Amantle Montsho for some time, but the emerging sensations in Baboloki Thebe, Karabo Sibanda; and of course the resurgence of a rejuvenated Nijel Amos; as well as the enterprise of Onkabetse Nkobolo is demonstration that athletics Botswana has upped the tempo.
Botswana has fielded the cream of the lot for years especially in the 400m and 4x400m relay, and if recent records are anything to go by, it looks likely that global medals loom large on the horizon especially for the men’s senior relay team (4x400m), 400m and 800m categories.
The 4X400m Men’s Relay
The men’s 4x400m team is optimistic about this year’s prospects, following a strong global appearance and clocking 3:02.28, a Season’s Best (SB) in April’s IAAF World Relays in Bahamas. Even though a 2nd place finish was somewhat heart breaking for Batswana who yearned for pole finish in Nassau, it was an encouraging achievement because Botswana finally toppled the USA and its highly experienced former World Champion Lashawn Merritt, as well as Grenada’s Kirani James and possibly 400m whiz kid Wayde Van Neikerk in London. The athletes proved to have given it their best shot, finishing in podium position for the first time in Bahamas.
With Nkobolo and Makwala rearing to go, this gives team Botswana significant depth. One ambition for the aging Makwala is to decorate his glittering career with a global World medal and so are the red-hot young talents’ bids to consolidate their trade among top athletes at a global stage.
According to an experienced athletics coach, Oabona Theetso, Botswana’s 4x400m, men’s relay team, Thebe (400m) and Amos (800m) both stand a chance of going up on the ranks by winning a medal at the World championships. In an interview he said there has never been a better time where medals look set like this year. “The relay team will definitely notch a medal, given their season’s best at Bahamas and the individual performance of 400m – we should really be hopeful for a medal,” he explained.
Thebe: The 400m race marvel
In the 400m race, all factors remaining constant, Thebe is the only front-runner who is ready to mount serious pressure on both Merritt and Van Neikerk. The fast developing athlete is best paced to bring back a second medal (any) from the global spectacle.
In his last diamond league race, the 20 year old who is occupying the second spot in the Diamond League standings with 7 points clocked 44:02 in Lausanne. The times are impressive though the sprinting world record holder, Neikerk definitely looks poised for gold. He did an astonishing 43:62 in his latest race with Thebe and Makwala coming behind him. Another challenge for Thebe would be the US sprinter, Merritt who outran him in May at the Eugene meet. Merritt clocked 44:79 while thebe showed up a few seconds later with 44:95.
According to Theetso, Van Niekerk is the biggest threat for the local boys at the IAAF meet. “Our boys will have to break a sweat if they are to beat him, it shows that he (Van Niekerk) has been working on sprints considering the time he clocked in his 400m race,” said the coach. Makwala could be the dark horse in the race having clocked 44:08 last week in Lausanne.
Nonetheless Merritt has proven not be much of a threat as age is catching up with him. The last time the 31 year old was on track was in May and his mentors are perhaps sparing him the fatigue of competing in various races. “The only threat is Wayne (Neikerk),” Theetso reiterated.
As for Sibanda, who is experiencing an amazing season start; there is fear that his hamstring injury might stand on his way of him winning any medal. The sprinter has yet to be examined by specialists to fully assess the injury. His last performance was two months back where he couldn’t finish the race owing to the injury. He, however might get to share in the glory if the relay team out performs other for podium finish.
800m: Nijel bounces back…
Olympics silver medallist, Amos has perhaps returned to his former glory, following a few upsets in some recent past competitions. “He is picking up at the right time, which is good for him and the nation,” Theetso highlighted. In Lausanne ‘Zorro’ clocked 800m world leading time (1:43) which certainly assures him of a medal. His rival David Rudisha is doing his preparations behind the scenes, but this shouldn’t disturb Amos, as his time speaks for him, the coach reckons.
For the female athletes, Montsho remains the only experienced runner of all. Since her fall from grace in 2015, a lot has changed in the 400m race. She clocked 49:56 in 2011 and the time hardly assures of any medal. Her preparations have been below par competing only in local meets clocking 52:02. Since then she has never been any active. However, prospect, Lydia Jele has proven to be the only candidate to surprise the world and probably bring a medal home.
Major David Bright is set to be announced as the new coach of Premier league rookies, Sua Flamingos, who parted ways with their coach, Raizor Tsatselebe, last week after a fall out over players’ welfare.
Bright, who is currently coaching first division south outfit, Holy Ghost was interviewed for the job this week with three other coaches and is said to have agreed to a contract in principle. Sua Flamingos Chairman, Tirelo Thebe was mum on the issue insisting that the deal will be announced at the right time when both parties have put to pen everything.
“What I can tell you is that next month we will announce our coach and he will have time to prepare our team as we aim to not just be at the top league for one season but we want to compete as we are a team that aspire to be one of the top teams in Botswana and one day compete in international CAF games.
Yes Bright is one of the people we are considering so you need to understand that negotiations are private and can break at any time but we hope for the best,” the team Chairman said in a telephone interview.
Bright is also one of the decorated local coaches having coached premier league sides such as Gaborone United, Township Rollers, BDF Xl, and in South Africa where he coached Cape Town Santos, Bay United and Black Leopards.
Bright has also coached the Zebras before they roped in Algerian coach, Adel Ambrouche who is the current Zebras coach. It is to be seen as to whether the management of Sua Flamingos will be able to work smoothly with David Bright who is a man who does not tolerate interference with his squad.
“It’s surprising that the team fired Raizor as he was seen to be more on the side of players and now they are bringing in a coach who doesn’t even tolerate interference from management and very strict on both management and players.
I mean if they have a problem with strict coaches why bring another strict coach? They could have brought in a coach who can listen to them more as management because they want to be in control of the team and everything,” said a source at the club.
“The delay is said to be because Bright has asked for him to be given chance to rope in his preferred assistant coach and management asked to be given time to consider his request as they are not comfortable with the issue,” continued the source.
Sua Flamingo Santos have returned to training and are led by care taker coach, Kopano Computer Phakedi.
Botswana Premiership League outfit, Gaborone United (GU) were the first to open a new chapter in the history books of Botswana football, when they were crowned the inaugural 2008/09 beMobile Premiership champions.
The success came after almost two decades without winning the league title. In a title decider played at Molepolole Stadium, Moyagoleele defeated the defending champions, Mochudi Centre Chiefs, by a solitary goal courtesy of Wellington Maposa.
That was the last time the money machine was crowned the league champions. Just nearly 10 years after breaking a curse of going two decades without tasting league victory, The Reds have regrouped in a bit to return to their former glory days.
GU is currently the busiest club in the transfer market as they are bolstering their squad ahead of 2020/2021 football season.
The Money Machine have secured the signatures of Mothusi Johnson and Karabo Phiri from the Debswana-sponsored giants; Orapa United and Jwaneng Galaxy respectively.
WeekendSport has since established that both players have signed three-year contracts with the Reds. The club is now under the guidance of business mogul Nicholas Zakhem who is their chief financier.
Moyagoleele’s prodigal son, Phiri, returns to Old Naledi after spending two seasons with the current 2019/2020 BTC Premiership Champions Jwaneng Galaxy.
Phiri was signed by former Jwaneng Galaxy coach Miguel Da Costa during 2018/2019 season where he became their regular player. Phiri has also won the 2019 Mascom Top 8 champions with Jwaneng Galaxy.
Since then, 25 year old has earned himself several national team calls.
Another player who returns home is none other than the ever impressive defender Mothusi Johnson. The 23 year old Zebras defender joined Orapa United from the Money Machine during 2018/2019 season.
However, prior to the elapse of his two year deal with the Ostriches, it was reported that he previously turned down two offers from Orapa United arguing that they did not represent his worth.
Another reason why Johnson turned down two offers from Orapa United was because he wanted to move abroad but later realised that it was going to be difficult for him find a team after the COVID-19 outbreak.
The 23 year-old Johnson made a name for himself on the field of play after he was nurtured by Argentinian coach Rudolf Zapata while at GU. Orapa United Spokesperson, Kabo William confirmed with this publication that Mothusi Johnson will be a Gaborone United player.
“Yes, Mothusi bid us a farewell saying he’s joining Gaborone United. His contract had expired. So we are just waiting for GU to make a request for his clearance,’’ William said.
Former Motlakase Power Dynamos and also Mochudi Centre Chiefs defender, Thato Kebue has left Jwaneng Galaxy after the end of his contract and it has been reported that he signed a pre-contract with the Money machine according to impeccable sources.
The 23 year-old defender joins Galaxy from Magosi during the 2017/2018 season and just like his former teammate Phiri helped his former side win the League and also the Top 8 tournament.
Gaborone United are reportedly keen on signing Jwaneng Galaxy defensive midfielder Lebogang Ditsile. The Reds want to compete for top honours next season and they feel Ditsile can bring the competitive edge they need in the middle of the park.
Meanwhile reports coming from Moyagoleele is that the club is planning to take their caretaker coach to complete CAF A coaching licensing before offering him a new three-year deal.
Moloi made headlines beginning of this year when teams questioned why Botswana Football Association (BFA) allowed him be the head coach for GU while he is holding a B license coaching qualification which only enables him to sit on the GU technical bench as an assistant coach.
The Government of Botswana through the Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development, has expressed its underlying desire to reawaken and improve sport policy.
This is also in line with the declaration made by President Mokgweetsi Masisi in his third State of the Nation Address (SONA) this week about the need to improve sport performance in the country. The sport policy was first enacted in 2001 when the Department of Sport and Recreation was under the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs.
The review of this policy is expected to commence soon and strive to address all socio-economic problems bedevilling sport. The examination will start from the elements that speak to the direct processes of national dialogue of sport and come up with recommendations for improvement.
As things stand, the Sport Ministry has coordinated a task force to deal with the taxing issue of school sports where teachers have downed tools demanding special kind of payment for partaking in extracurricular activities. The government through various means has been made aware that sport forms an integral part of the country’s vision.
If the policy is finally revised, the country and other stakeholders will eventually achieve national development, unity and continued economic growth. “The national Sport Commission Act is also being reviewed to facilitate sport to contribute to the economy through commercialization and professionalism, as well as to improve the welfare and the rights to our sportspersons,” Masisi said in his address.
The review will once again take a long route of extensive consultative processes where critical factors were initially identified as continuous constraint to sport development. There is a wide ranging view that sport is solely for recreation. This anomaly is fast becoming a matter of yesteryears as more athletes are making a living out of sport.
In October of 1997, a discussion paper on sport policy development was prepared. At the time, the workshop brought together policy and decision makers. The discussions precisely centred on issues of sport participation and development. Participants included among others, Botswana National Sport Commission (BNSC), Botswana National Olympic Committee (BNOC) Botswana National Youth Council (BNYC) and National Sports Associations.
There was the discovery of limited funding in sport and poor sporting facilities in the country. This has negatively impacted on the performance of national sports associations, particularly on the global stage. As a measure to this problem, the government has decided to build 10 mini stadia to up participation and performance.
In 2001 when the policy was formulated, there was an agreement that the national guiding principles of democracy, development, unity, self-reliance and botho are cardinal to the development strategy of socio-economic development planning. The Ministry believes that sport and recreation in Botswana have a close relationship with all these national principles.
When speaking to this publication, the Chief Executive Officer of BNSC, Tuelo Serufho said there is indeed an overwhelming appetite to improve sport performance and participation in the country. “Yes we need to engage both BNSC and BNOC to improve and review the sport policy more because it has been overtaken by time…it needs to be aligned with modern sports trends,” Serufho briefly shared.